Several of my previous posts have referred to a river (THE river in fact), and I think I've gone out of my way to give the impression that it is indeed a special place. Much of what makes it special is its propensity for growing large, wild trout. It's a wonderfully complex river, and a fine place for a flyflinger to wet a line. The anglers who wade its runs are blessed with consistent hatches and difficult holding lies, which is precisely why it is such a shame when the stocking trucks arrive on its banks.
Starting about two weeks ago, stocked fish with amputated pectoral fins and stunted tails, starting showing in all the usual places. I caught a slew of them. They're pale, misshapen, and far too eager to chase one's flies. I resented each one as it is difficult for me to find any satisfaction in their capture. The annual stocking of the river drives the river's regulars, including myself, farther back into woods and away from bridges and cookie-cutter fish.
The river is a perfectly viable and self-sustaining fishery. Sadly, bureaucrats seem to think that if tax dollars are available to spend on hundreds of hatchery brood and a metric ton of trout chow, then those dollars positively must be spent. Health of the river or quality of the fishery be damned. Wasteful spending be damned. This is how it has always been done. This is how it will always be done.
Folks like me, who've spent most of their lives on the river, are left confounded. What should we do? On the surface, the right thing is to bring attention the river. Make folks aware of the river's potential. Do what you can to assist folks in experiencing the river as you have. More to the point, demonstrate to taxpayers and tax collectors alike that the dollars spent on raising and stocking hatchery fish are monies better spent elsewhere. The river produces plenty of fish on its own and it does so gratis, free of any expense in treasure or labor.
With attention, however, comes other and perhaps more significant problems. I've alluded to these problems in previous posts, and I won't rehash them here. Suffice to say the truth is that few people respect the river as we do, and they've absolutely no regard for wild fish. This is the sad and inevitable consequence of a society that increasingly prefers artificial landscapes to the natural world, and by extension rubber trout to the real thing.
To illustrate my meaning, I point to the roughly 120 students with whom I daily interact. Of that number only a handful recognize a picture of a pickerel, a brown trout or bass. Only one (God bless you Jeremiah) could tell the difference between a whitetail and a mule deer. All of them (Jeremiah included) instantly recognize the Halo or World of Warcraft series of video games. One particular student actually admitted to devoting 50 or 60 hours a week to video games.
So what do we do? How do we respond when a student, a friend, a neighbor, a son or daughter spend so much time wasting so much time?
I'm not sure, but I think we start by turning off the televisions in our own homes. We shut down the computers and leave them shut down. We take advantage of every available moment and spend that time outdoors. We take our spouses with us. We take our children, both sons and daughters, with us. We take the neighbors' children with us. And we do not start with fly fishing.
We start with picnics, bike rides and hikes. We start by catching crayfish in the stream or picking pussy willows by the pond. We start by being role models, and demonstrating our love of the outdoors. We teach young people that the opportunities afforded to us by nature far outweigh the fleeting satisfaction furnished by the digital world. We teach our kids that the quiet pride one takes in catching a few wary, wild fish, far outweighs the bragging rights one assumes as he or she gloats over a bucket full of stockers.
We remember our Emerson. "The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship."